A guide to Edinburgh's authors and books
Edinburgh, first City of Literature, boasts some of the world’s most famous and well-loved authors
Challenge anyone who doubts Edinburgh’s claim to be a literary city to come up with another capital whose main station is named after a novel (Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley), one of whose football teams is named after another (The Heart of Midlothian – Scott, again) and whose main shopping street is home to the biggest monument to an author in Britain, with the Scott Monument (another tick) in Princes Street.
Romantic, historic and vibrant, Edinburgh has inspired thousands of writers in the past, among them Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle, while there’s no shortage of contemporary authors local to the city such as Irvine Welsh, JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Iain Banks and Ian Rankin. Rankin, the UK’s best-selling crime writer, set his Inspector Rebus detective series in the city and credits it as his muse: ‘I started writing novels while an undergraduate student, in an attempt to make sense of the city of Edinburgh, using a detective as my protagonist. Each book adds another piece to the jigsaw that is modern Scotland, asking questions about the nation’s politics, economy, psyche and history… and perhaps pointing towards its possible future.’
Not only does it inspire, but Edinburgh also hosts the world’s biggest book festival every summer. It was the birthplace of Scottish printing in 1508, is a centre of publishing and in 2004 was designated the first Unesco City of Literature.
The National Library of Scotland, whose John Murray Archive is an impressive resource, has recently undergone a major redevelopment. The city also has a library dedicated to verse in the Scottish Poetry Library, a Storytelling Centre and the Scottish Book Trust, a national agency supporting readers and writers.
There are statues to Burns on Calton Hill, poet Robert Fergusson in the Canongate, a grove of trees in tribute to Stevenson in Princes Street Gardens and plaques commemorating literary heroes plastering countless buildings.
Literature groupies can sit in the very cafés where Harry Potter was written (Nicolsons Café, now the Spoon Café Bistro, and The Elephant House), sup a pint in the Poets’ Pub (Milne's Bar in Rose Street), where Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid , Sorley MacLean, Iain Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown, Sydney Goodsir Smith, Edwin Morgan and Robert Garioch all used to meet (captured in oils by Sandy Moffat in a famous painting hanging in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery), and DI Rebus’s local, the Oxford Bar.